Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Research and teaching
- Mental Health
Endocannabinoids are the brains endogenous version of THC, the psychoactive constituent of cannabis (similar to how endorphins are the body’s endogenous version of morphine). Over the past few years I have been interested in the role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of stress and emotional behavior. Research from us, and others, has demonstrated that endocannabinoid signaling largely acts to decrease stress responses. Deficits in endocannabinoid signaling in rodents can increase neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to stress, and in humans, disruption of endocannabinoid signaling can produce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interestingly, we have demonstrated that stress can mobilize endocannabinoid signaling, and that this increase in endocannabinoid signaling is required for both the normal recovery from acute stress as well as the larger adaptive processes that occur following repeated exposure to stress.
More so, we have found that under conditions of chronic stress, endocannabinoid signaling “breaks down”, and that the loss of this buffer system may be one of the mechanisms by which chronic stress increases the risk of affective illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorders. This hypothesis has been supported by translational clinical studies we have performed demonstrating that circulating levels of endocannabinoids are reduced individuals afflicted with major depression. The primary focus of research in my laboratory is to understand the role of the endocannabinoid system in the effects of stress and glucocorticoids.
Within this focus, my research is particularly interested in determining the role of the endocannabinoid system in the effects of stress on a) neuroendocrine function; b) emotional behaviour; c) energy balance and metabolism; d) neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. This is achieved through a systems level approach incorporating a range of neuroscientific techniques ranging from cellular/biochemical to behavioural.